The Rochester Police Department and city and school district officials thought they found a way to stop young people from gathering to fight — or to watch a fight — in the Liberty Pole area downtown. Changes were made to the busing situation last year to reduce the number of young people downtown at peak times, and it seemed to make a difference.
But the fights have started again. And now there are questions about whether a police officer acted appropriately when he allegedly pepper-sprayed a student following a fight that happened about a week ago.
The incident was recorded by a news team from Channel 13, and the video prompted school board member Van White to write to Police Chief James Sheppard about the officer’s behavior. White called for an investigation.
In a phone interview today, White said Sheppard has responded to his letter, and that he’s satisfied with Sheppard’s promise to review the incident.
“A public vetting will help to restore the public’s confidence in the RPD,” White said. “If the officer did do something wrong, it says something when they stand up and say: ‘We were wrong.’”
But the problem goes much deeper than the officer’s conduct.
At a time when the city and school district are financially strapped, much-needed resources are being diverted to ensure safety on Main Street. And the fights only fuel perceptions among some business owners and visitors that downtown is unsafe at a time when we desperately need more businesses and visitors.
City Council member Adam McFadden, who heads Council's Public Safety Committee, says sending more police officers to patrol downtown isn’t likely to help. He advocates a return to using school buses instead of RTS buses to transport students, and he says he wants a return to neighborhood schools.
While some people say that the new transit center currently under construction will help solve the problem, McFadden is dubious. The transit center is only a building, he says. Students are fighting inside the schools, he says, why wouldn’t they fight inside the transit center?